I Left Social Media Several Years Ago
This is not going to be a rant about everything that’s wrong with social media. Since you clicked on this article, I am guessing you’re already experiencing some discomfort with social media and have started a little research. I will, however, recommend the recent Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” to drive home your irritation. The most powerful moment of the doc, for me personally, is the very end: During credits, interviews continue to roll and you hear a number of former high-level employees of Facebook, Google and friends, speak about their children not being allowed on social media or have screen time severely restricted. Because those guys know the monster they’ve created.
Watching the Netflix movie, was actually what prompted me to write this article. As well as a statment from a friend of mine who said: “I’m trying to figure out how to stay in touch with people, now that everyone is abandoning social media”. But I’ve also heard many acquaintances say that they were “not ready” to leave, despite growing discomfort. So this article is for those who aren’t sure yet, but feel something needs to change.
For full disclosure, I kept my LinkedIn account as I thought it would be useful for biz connections. Since it has become more and more like Facebook, it takes some discipline not to be sucked back into the hole of that kind of platform. I now check the account about once every two months. But ultimately, LinkedIn hasn’t really turned out all that useful for business, so I might close it soon, too. I opened this Medium account a few months ago, with real trepidation; but considered it necessary to share my middle-ground, back-to-reason thoughts on Covid-19, because I couldn’t hear voices like my own among the very loud media babble.
Back in the day, I used to be fairly active on Facebook, tried Twitter for about 5 minutes when it was new and I found it pretty stupid; re-opened the account in 2015 for a Q&A on a complex scientific topic — with a then 140 character limit, I found the platform even dumber than before. And I had a Tumblr blog for a while. In 2015, I stopped logging in to those accounts and in 2018 Facebook finally allowed me to close my account (although I never go my data out of them). Shortly before finally closing my account, I gave Facebook another try for a week and I immediately felt my mood getting worse, my anxiety heighten, and it became extremely easy to say goodbye forever at that point.
I don’t miss a thing
I think the preamble might be longer than my actual article, because the gist of it is: I don’t miss anything. And I don’t miss out on anything. I have not lost any actual friends, nor have I missed out on their lives. Frankly, the only thing that’s less satisfied is my voyeurism. But having said that, I am glad to be rid of pointless images of lunches people photograph or opinions I couldn’t care less about. I soon figured out I didn’t care much about the people behind those pictures and opinions. I met my real friends outside of Facebook, and even while I was on the platform, we never used it to stay in touch.
Turns out, the opinions that matter to me are not those that come to me in a feed, it’s those I seek out. Not in a bubble kind of way, where I only seek and hear what’s already aligned with my opinion. Actually, it’s the exact opposite of that: I have to engage with information.
It might take me a minute longer to share holiday pictures — well, technically it doesn’t, I just use a different method. The number of people who get to see those pictures are select. I prefer it that way, because in my case, too, there was a receiving end to my profile on Facebook who presumably didn’t really care about me and my life, once they spent a minute thinking about it. Why else have I not heard from them again since? So why should I share all my experiences with them?
Finally, I found my decision reinforced through the language that developed around social media — particularly the term “influencer”. It rubs me the wrong way; it rubs me like mistaking a medieval mace for a loofa wrong way. As a scientist, I take it as a real affront. To a scientist working on projects for the betterment of the world, and currently out of my own pocket, it’s an insult. As a scientist surrounded by brilliant researchers, designers, social activists, makers and craftspeople, who are actually contributing to society and creating value … well, you get it. A person who just looks good, and for that earns millions to post some videos and pictures, is not creating value and is for certain not an influencer in any sense or meaning the term deserves. It’s a pet peeve, what can I say!
As I’ve recently revisited my decision from 2015, because of increased disgruntlement with Google, I am now taking the next step in trying to free myself from the big G. It’s not for the faint-hearted, I’m telling you; and I’m definitely not expecting everyone to go further than re-evaluating their relationship with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and co. You don’t have to go radical, just become conscious, awake, aware!
My first step has been to get a different e-mail account. Paid this time, because I’ve decided I prefer paying with money rather than with my data. Then I pray Google actually deletes my data, as they promise on the account setting page. Things aren’t as seamless anymore, because I am also changing my file sharing system. But luckily, I’m a child of the 80s and I can deal with a few gaps. I can still remember phone numbers from back then and I am thankful I gew up without a phone camera in my face all the time. Kid’s today have their entire lives shared on social media, even before they can consent to having every embarrassing moment out there on the net. Forever.
But I digress. Alternative search engines will be the next step, because I’ve learned that even “incognito mode” is a ruse and search results are still tied to whatever info Google accesses about me. Not that I have anything to hide, by the way, which is always that odd argument people make. It’s just that I really prefer choosing myself which search results to click on, rather than an AI making that decision for me. It’s my take on the point about democracy they make in “The Social Dilemma”: Rather than being fed information, I want to choose. It’s more work, I have to engage, I have to parse alls kinds of opinions, evaluate, and decide. But that’s what democracy is.
Some say, social media makes us stupid. I think that’s the case, but via laziness. The term is literally “Feed”. We are being fed information and that makes us lazy, less engaged, less curious, and ultimately stupid.
Go for it
If you’re one of the undecided ones, all I can say: Just go for it. Start with one account or go cold turkey. Nothing bad will happen to you. You won’t die! And it’ll be the best true-friend filter ever. At first you might find yourself with more free time than you’re used to, but that feeling subsides super fast. After you’ve detoxed for several weeks or months, by all means go back to your social media, should you feel the urge; and if you’re in any way like me, you’ll immediately see it negatively impacting your mood and stress levels. I hope that at that point you’ll find it easy to say farewell for good, too. I wish you good luck on your journey to consciousness!
My active “social” inventory: Secure e-mail; Considering DuckDuckGo or Swisscows as primary search engine; Signal with immediate family members and a couple of close friends, no forwarding of “junk” allowed, meal pictures are allowed but none of my friends really does that :-) ; FaceTime for video calls with family and friends; instructional videos on YouTube; e-mail subscriptions and notifications from a maximum of ten companies or services that add real value to my life.